With "Phase 2A" of the City’s reopening plan beginning Monday — after weeks of marginal lifts on its shelter-in-place order — another reality of urban life is slowly, but surely, making a comeback: downtown traffic.
When shelter-in-place first began, you could've heard a pin drop on our city's streets. They were — and largely still are in the outskirts of SF — so quiet that coyotes gallivanted up and down vacant roadways, patrolling new territories. However, with semblances of pre-pandemic normality on the seeable horizon and, frankly, the fact that people’s dedication to staying indoors continues waning by the day, traffic reports are suggesting city gridlock is back in quasi-full swing.
The #StayHome order has been extended until further notice. Let’s rally together and continue to #ProtectOurCommunity from the spread of COVID-19. For more information visit: https://t.co/cxFjh7cS70 or call 311. #KeepUpTheGoodWorkSF pic.twitter.com/7NDh6FLbGp— San Francisco DEM (@SF_emergency) May 29, 2020
Recent reports show the Bay Area’s two main bridges, the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge, had a combined pre-COVID-19 daily average of around 421,000 trips in their toll-paying directions, which was essentially halved by early-April with a daily tally of 208,000 crosses. But over the past three weeks that number has substantially increased (at least 16 percent on most days) with some 243,000 toll-paid trips recorded each day.
Anecdotally, videos and photos showing SOMA and the Tenderloin in gridlock have found their ways on Twitter. This week, the CDC recommended single-occupancy car travel — for work-related purposes, as well as for conducting essential tasks — to help thwart the spread of the virus; we can only speculate that intel has fueled SF drivers to take to the roads again. (I can attest that my Mission District stomping grounds, particularly the pavement on Valencia and Mission Streets, have rung with more car horns in the past week than during any other time since SIP began.)
CDC is suggesting employers subsidize parking for employees so they don't have to take public transit to get to their office. Meanwhile, roads in SF are already at capacity with almost no offices open. pic.twitter.com/KkAgo2qgmo— Parker Day (@desertflyer) May 29, 2020
SF's still-expanding Slow Streets program isn't to blame for the recent uptick in traffic, either. These closed urban roads that are now designated for pedestrian use were picked for their usual lack of road congestion; these lower-traffic residential streets were labeled as such after extensive research, including how they were affected by Muni service reductions. And we can expect two or more additional "Safe Street corridors" each week until SIP is lifted, entirely.
Alas: complacency and indifference, coupled with the slight relaxations on SF’s shelter-in-place order, seem to be the driving factors here.
In the meantime — and to avoid the apocalyptic post-pandemic city traffic experts are fearing — now's the appropriate time to reacquaint yourself with bike travel. This, too, is also a good chance to adhere to the “walk-a-mile” adage pedestaled by many transportation and environmental advocates: if your destination is a mile or less away and the conditions outside are good, walk there to reduce your carbon footprint and help decongest city streets.
Photo: Unsplash, courtesy of Saketh Garuda